Q&A with Tori Dearborn

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Former sustainability@BU intern, Tori Dearborn, discusses her thoughts on sustainability in this Q&A as part of our What You’re Doing series focusing on the sustainable actions of faculty, staff, and students at BU.


Who are you and how does sustainability fit in with what you do?
I’m Victoria (Tori) Dearborn. I’m a recent graduate from BU (shout out to Class of 2015!). I spent several years working for sustainability@BU during my time as an undergrad, in addition to studying environmental science, doing research on Boston’s street trees’ carbon storage, and participating in the Environmental Student Organization. Now that I’ve graduated, my path is still very focused on sustainability – I’m now working in downtown Boston as part of a non-profit organization that engages the commercial real estate sector in sustainability.

What does sustainability mean to you?
I think all of us have the classic definition of sustainability drilled into our heads by now, so like many others I instinctively answer this question with “sustainability is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. While that definition does a good job at summarizing the goal of sustainability, I think what sustainability stands for is constantly growing and adapting as our society changes. For example, ten years ago, people who spoke about sustainability were unlikely to ever mention the idea of climate change resiliency, but now resiliency is a major focus of many sustainability efforts. Sustainability is an approach to addressing environmental, social, and economic challenges that we face all the time, and as those challenges change, so does our understanding of sustainability.

When did you first become interested in sustainability?
I first became interested in sustainability around fifth grade. I went to an elementary school that emphasized personal research as a learning technique and in fifth grade I chose to research factory farms (aka CAFOs). I watched a number of videos on the horrifying conditions animals live in to supply the meat industry and immediately became vegetarian. Also in that year, I read one of Jane Goodall’s books, “Harvest for Hope”, which became my introduction into understanding the greater environmental impacts of pesticides, water use, nutrient use, GMO’s, etc. involved in industrial agriculture in addition to the ethical issues that had first interested me. I became extremely interested in sustainable agriculture and my interest in sustainability has been growing ever since.

What is one thing you do on a daily basis to help make the campus more sustainable?
I do my best to do a number of things on a daily basis, for example, I’ve had the same trusty reusable water bottle for the past 3+ years that is always on my person. But to mix it up, now that it’s summer again, I’m being extremely conscious of my water use and have returned to my goal of five minute showers.

What do you perceive as the biggest barrier for BU students, faculty, and staff to adopting more sustainable behaviors?
I think BU has done a phenomenal job making sustainable behaviors accessible for students, faculty, and staff and I know the hardworking sustainability@BU staff is always working to make it even easier. That said, I believe that people are conditioned to do what is easiest and most comfortable for them above extending effort into something they don’t necessarily NEED to do. So I suppose it’s a behavioral barrier? I think that when we’ve changed the energy, waste, and water markets (and I believe they’re changing faster in Boston than a lot of the rest of the US) and those changes are reflected on BU’s campus through things like compost bins on dorm floors or energy coming directly from renewable sources, only then will we be able to fully engage the group of people who aren’t already engaged.

How would you challenge BU community members to live less wastefully?
I think energy use is probably one of the most accessible changes in waste that the BU community can take. At the end of the night or when you leave for class, unplug your laptops, unplug your phones, unplug your gaming systems, unplug your ambient fairy-lights, what have you. And turn off your lights on your way out of your room. The outlets won’t get lonely without the plugs, I promise.

What would you recommend to someone on campus who is interested in sustainability but doesn’t know how to get their ideas off the ground?
Join a club! The clubs at BU are an incredible place to have your voice heard and there are a ton of them. Check out the sustainability@BU clubs page if you’re not sure where or when to go to get involved, and don’t forget that if you don’t see your sustainability-related interests represented in the clubs there already, you can always start your own!

What are your hopes for campus sustainability in the future at BU and how do you plan to help the community achieve these goals?
I think one of the most exciting upcoming pieces of BU’s sustainability efforts may be a movement towards renewable energy. In addition to continuing to improve greenhouse gas reduction strategies like behavior change and waste diversion, increasing BU’s renewable energy portfolio could put the campus on track towards becoming a net zero campus someday. While I’ve left the classroom behind with graduation, I’m still engaged with the BU community through my new job and also through continued research with Lucy Hutyra in the Earth and Environment department. BU hasn’t seen the last of me yet!

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